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From the Magazine

By David Varno

“My bag in the back of the truck, the Antarctica bottles open, and we’re off.”

So begins our excerpt of Ross Benjamin’s translation of Thomas Pletzinger’s novel Bestattung eines Hundes (2008), forthcoming from W. W. Norton as Funeral for a Dog. This is the kind of writing that makes us want to read the whole book as soon as possible; a shot of adrenaline that immediately takes us to a new world.

We are with Dirk Svensson, a children’s book author eluding pursuit from a journalist named Daniel Mandelkem, landing at Recife airport after a twenty-four-hour journey and about to be driven wildly through the forest into the heart of Brazil. The novel’s second half unfolds in Svensson’s uncovered manuscript, and fills in questions raised by Mandelkem, whose story unfolds in notebook entries. As translator Ross Benjamin explains, Mandelkern processes his observations and experiences by taking notes that are presented in [a]sketchy, at times aphoristic mode, full of parenthetical associative snatches and lists of questions about his current reporting assignment and himself.” Here is an excerpt of a note from Benjamin:`

Thomas Pletzinger’s debut novel, Funeral for a Dog...was lauded by German critics as a brilliant treatment of the generational crisis of contemporary thirty-somethings who have been all over the world without feeling at home anywhere and whose early adult lives have been marked by indecision in the face of excessive possibilities....Daniel Mandelkern is a journalist who has abandoned his dissertation on the anthropological concept of “participant observation” in favor of freelance writing for his wife, Elisabeth, editor of the culture pages of a German newspaper.


The juxtaposition of Svensson’s manuscript and Mandelkern’s notes presents different modes of working out life’s quandaries through writing. Ultimately, Mandelkern doesn’t write his profile, but he is finally able to make a decision about his and Elisabeth’s future. The book is rich with allusions to anthropological texts and literary works from Max Frisch’s Montauk to Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, appropriately for a novel that is so devoted to the connections and tensions between writing and life.

Here's more from the scene with Svensson in Brazil:

I wait in the passenger seat as Felix jumps onto the back of the truck, the air thick with smoke from the garbage cans. Felix with a bulging plastic bag in his hand, printed on it is: Supermercadinho e Panificadora Bom Jesus. David turns the key in the ignition back and forth like a screwdriver, the engine sputters and finally starts. We got lucky, says Felix, and I ask: Why lucky? They messed up, says Felix, meu amigo! Look at this bag full of weed, he whispers, the idiots made a mistake, meu amigo, he cheers, this is at least five hundred grams! And are sparks flying from the garbage cans on the road, or is there an illegal Heckler & Koch rattling behind us, and are the shadows on the road ducking like flowers in the moonlight? I stare at Felix: Are you serious? David steers the pickup out of the favela, but with my twenty-four-hour flight in my bones I have trouble following. With such curves, with such holes in the ground.

Pletzinger was born in Münster, Germany in 1975. He earned his MFA at the German Literature Institute in Leipzig. In 2006 he participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, and in 2009 was the Writer-in-Residence at Deutsches Haus at NYU. He has received various literary awards and fellowships, including the 2009 Uwe-Johnson-Förderpreis.

Published Nov 14, 2009   Copyright 2009 David Varno

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